Patricia Riggen had to overcome some massive odds to direct “Miracles From Heaven.” Not only has she selected a career where 95 percent of those getting jobs are men, the Mexico native has also had to overcome the fact that only 2 percent of directors are Hispanic.
“You have to fight and be very tough. You have to work twice as much as everyone else,” Riggen says. “Every day I almost throw the towel in. I cry sometimes. I think I can’t keep doing this because it is too hard.
“But then, I just keep going.”
Riggen’s latest work, “Miracles From Heaven,” is based on the true story of a young girl with a debilitating illness who is cured after falling 30 feet in an old tree. She shares her story of being told while she was in heaven that she would be cured when she returned.
Jennifer Garner, Kylie Rogers, Martin Henderson, Queen Latifah and Eugenio Derbez star.
One thing that helped Riggen continue her fight is that she believes in miracles. She brought that to the movie, not by focusing on the girl’s healing but by looking at all the small miracles that happen in our lives.
“If I only looked at the large miracle, then I think some people would have felt left out because they have not had a big miracle,” says Riggen, 45. “I wanted to look at all the goodness that is in people and all the angels that appear in our lives in different moments.
“I believe in them because I have experienced that.”
The Guadalajara, Jalisco, native has been chasing a career in film most of her life. She was writing for documentaries before heading to New York to get a master’s degree in directing and screenwriting at Columbia. She made short films until landing her first feature, “Under the Same Moon.”
The fact that Riggen is a woman had a lot to do with her getting the “Miracle” job. Producers Joe Roth, T.D. Jakes and DeVon Franklin agreed that they thought the story of a mother’s efforts to help her critically ill daughter needed to be directed by a woman and a mother.
Riggen, a mother of one, fit the bill perfectly. Along with her maternal side, she also brought a lot of experience dealing with family struggles with her guidance of “Under the Same Moon” and “Girl in Progress.”
“The big concern I had was how do you make a movie about a very sick girl that everyone will watch,” Riggen says. “I decided I need to bring in as many fun elements as I could to make it a beautiful picture that everyone will watch.”
As with all directors, there are no assurances there will be another directing job in her future. But, with the recent work in “Miracles From Heaven” and “The 33,” Riggen is building a strong case for more jobs. The battle to land and keep work has been tough, but Riggen is convinced that it could have been a lot harder. She praises all of the women and minorities who knocked down doors before she got to Hollywood.
Riggen takes her opportunities very seriously. Derbez, who plays a doctor, says that with Riggen directing, an actor better come to work prepared.
“She is very tough and will push you to get the best,” Derbez says.
A question makes Riggen stop and think.
She had just been talking about how proud she is to be a woman who gets to direct because the entertainment business is so heavily dominated by men. Add in the fact that she’s proud of her Mexican heritage and Riggen is definitely unique.
The question has to do with whether she prefers that it be mentioned she’s a Mexican female director or a more politically correct phrase that would not mention her race or gender.
After a few seconds, Riggen says, “For me, it’s the same. It’s not a disservice to me either way. I am also an American director, so I am proud of all of it.”
She smiles and adds that it might be a disservice to the audience that a Mexican has directed the movie.
“If you think it is bad, then don’t mention it. Fortunately, I have an American last name,” Riggen says with a laugh.